So did you hear about Duke Nukem Forever? After twelve years of development hell, it finally arrived on store shelves to the fanfare of almost universally negative reviews. And how did the PR firm behind the game spin this development? By throwing a childish, angry hissy-fit. Suffice to say, this was bad news for PR firm Redner Group, who was dropped like a hot potato by game publisher 2K Games.
It was a facepalm moment, but one that made me think about all the times I've been tempted to do the very same thing. This might be shocking to hear, but there are people out there who don't like my games and will eagerly declare their feelings on reviews and public forums. The desire to leap into the fray and defend your work is great, but is it a good thing to do so? Well, it depends.
Keep your dignity
As an indie game developer, the best weapon in your arsenal is your reputation. If you get the reputation of being a prima donna who can't take criticism, then you will never be taken seriously. So if there's a nasty message on an internet forum (or negative review about your game) and you wonder if you should respond, think carefully about how it will effect your reputation. Remember, once it's out there, you can't take it back. You don't want to be this guy.
You won't change their mind
Seriously. Don't even try. I know it's tempting. Maybe they are playing it wrong, or they are approaching it with the wrong mindset, or they just don't "get it." It doesn't matter. Nobody likes being told what to do or what to think, and your customers are no exception. Don't believe me? Try debating politics sometime. No matter how logical your response, no matter how well thought-out and persuasive you might be, it is not going to matter. You're not going to make a person "see the light" and magically love your game. It just won't happen. If anything, it will just cement their belief further and make you look defensive and insecure. And on a public forum, that is magnified tenfold. So don't do it.
Reply when it benefits you
Here's a hypothetical example. A customer buys your game, installs it, and gets an error. Pissed off, the customer goes to their favorite game forum and rants about how your game doesn't work. They call your game cheap and you a rip-off artist. You, the developer, see this post. The customer's problem is a very common one and you know exactly how to fix it. So what should you do?
This is the only situation where I'd advocate responding publicly. There is no better opportunity to show potential customers that you can remain dignified under pressure and give great customer service at the same time. Keep cool, respond politely, and explain how to fix the problem. Congratulations, you've kept a customer, and probably made a few more to boot.
As for reviews, the only time I'd advocate responding is when they get something factual wrong. For me, this usually happens when they spell my company name wrong! (it's spelled with a J, darn it)
Remember, it's the internet
People who are otherwise normal, functional adults will say hurtful and stupid things simply because they can. Folks who enjoy something aren't as inclined to jump on the internet and rave about it as those who hate something. Remember that you can't please everybody, and you'll be fine.
P.S. I know I said I'd write more about demos in this post, but with the whole Duke Nukem thing happening I wanted to remain topical! Next time. Promise.